Friday, May 08, 2009

Anselm's Ontological Argument for the Existence of God

The so-called "proofs" for the existence of God are not proofs in a mathematical sense. They are more along the lines of evidences, or clues, or intuitions, that suggest or point to the existence of God, and which make the existence of God a reasonable and justified (or warranted) belief.

Anselm's Ontological argument is one of the most unusual. It has been hotly contested for nearly 1,000 years. It was attacked by Kant and defended by Hegel. More recently, Alvin Plantinga is a 21st cc. defender of the ontological argument.

Here it is, in summary form (this is my paraphrase -- Anselm scholars can tell me if I have represented him accurately):

1. God exists in human understanding as the greatest of all possible beings. (Even "the fool" who says in his heart "there is no God" has a definite sense of the being whose existence he is denying -- a supreme, greatest being for whom a greater being is, by definition, neither possible nor conceivable.)

2. The concept of God as the greatest possible being resides in our minds and is not an incoherent or nonsensical category of thought (unlike, e.g., flying spaghetti monsters, for whom atheists seem to have a particularly unhealthy obsession). *Update: see second comment, below*.

3. Something that exists only in our understanding is not as great as something that exists in reality. If God exists only in our minds but not in reality, it would in fact be possible to conceive of a greater being -- one who exists in reality.

4. Therefore, it would be contradictory to hold in our minds the concept of the greatest possible being and to deny his existence.

5. Therefore God, the greatest possible being, exists in reality as well as our understanding.

The argument is notable because it is the only one that seeks to prove the existence of God on the basis of pure reason without recourse to perception or empirical evidence. The proof relies on a human being's seemingly innate and pre-wired mental capacity to intuitively grasp the concept of God as the greatest of all possible beings.

For more...

http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/ontological-arguments/#StAnsOntArg

41 comments:

Jeff said...

Richard, an excellent explanation. You have two number 2 points. To my thinking, understanding the argument hinges on the second number 2: accepting the premise that the mind cannot conceive of something greater than what already exists. And the difficulty of "getting" the premise is made more difficult because it has to be stated with a negative verb.

pettitji said...

The same argument can be used to prove the existence of the flying spaghetti monster.

RkBall said...

God, if he exists, explains our existence, the existence of the universe, moral sense, our ingrained sense of abstract concepts such as justice, the human quest for meaning, purpose, value, love, life beyond death, etc.

The FSM explains exactly nothing. Which is perhaps why atheists obsess on the FSM.

pettitji -- your comments on my previous post were excellent.

Mike said...

"God, if he exists, explains our existence, the existence of the universe, moral sense, our ingrained sense of abstract concepts such as justice, the human quest for meaning, purpose, value, love, life beyond death, etc."Actually, science can explain all of those things without resorting to imaginary beings.

BTW, there is no life beyond death. Get over it.

And none of your mental gymnastics and pretzel logic provided evidence of anything beyond your desperate desire for something for which there is not a single iota of evidence for - God.

I can use your argument tp prove the existence of Thor or Odin or Hera...you name the god, your little nonsense argument fits.

To tell the truth, I am God. I created the entire universe 27 seconds ago, at the beginning of this comment. I planted all of your memories and knowledge to make it look like you've lived a full life longer than about 32 seconds now.

And Anslem can be used to prove that I am God.

Anonymous said...

Richard, I wonder why your other guests visit your blog.

Guelph First said...

“God, if he exists, explains our existence, the existence of the universe, moral sense, our ingrained sense of abstract concepts such as justice, the human quest for meaning, purpose, value, love, life beyond death, etc.”

A lack of evidence/solution does not mean the only solution possible, is the existence of a God. Science is advancing by leaps and bounds; many more answers are forth coming.

There is also a debate with the non religious community; I personally do not believe in the FSM, I believe that in time the evidence with support her holy hoofness the Invisible Pink Unicorn. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Invisible_Pink_Unicorn

Jeff said...

Richard, your other guests are intent on mocking your well-reasoned post. Don't you guys have anything better to do -- fertilizing the lawn, washing the windows, or other spring clean up? Why is it that Richard's posts invite your sarcastic responses?

RkBall said...

"Science is advancing by leaps and bounds; many more answers are forth coming."

Atheists apparently have knowledge of the future -- why can't prophets of Yahweh, who brought past, present, future into being?

"BTW, there is no life beyond death. Get over it."

They also have infallible knowledge of what lies beyond the grave -- why can't servants of Yahweh, who created life?

RkBall said...

"Science is advancing by leaps and bounds; many more answers are forth coming."

Here's what science has come up with in the past 50 years:

1. The Big Bang -- shattering the scientific consensus that the universe was, contrary to the Bible, eternal.

2. Fine-Tuning -- the universe is improbably fine-tuned for the existence of life, bringing the odds that it happened by chance to effectively nil, and shattering the scientific notion that life is easy and ubiquitous. In desperation, scientists are now hypothesizing multiverses.

3. DNA - DNA is encoded information. The universe consists of matter, energy, and information. Information implies intelligence. Encoded information implies design. Quacks like a duck, walks like a duck...

4. Origins of Life -- the origin of the simplest life form is billions of times more complex than Darwin envisaged. The chance that life popped into place on earth by chance is now considered effectively nil. Origin of life scientists are now seriously hypothesizing that life on earth came from another planet - brought by aliens (which effectively just shifts the problem, like the universe solution.

So, if "more answers are forthcoming", I say, bring them on. All of the evidence better fits a theistic conception of reality than the reality embraced by those who champion the flying spaghetti monster.

CC said...

Mr. Ball opines:

"The chance that life popped into place on earth by chance is now considered effectively nil."

In that case, Mr. Ball, what do you think is the chance that an omniscient, omnipotent deity popped into existence by chance?

Seriously, your argument above seems to hinge on a lot of probability. So, for the purposes of comparison, what is the probability of the Christian God?

If you think the emergence of simple life is so laughably unlikely, why do you have absolutely no trouble accepting an all-powerful God? What's the mathematical probability of that? Or do arguments based on probability not apply to you?

lastchancetosee said...

@Richard & what science has come up with:

I find it curious that you cite your first point as if it was a negative thing. One of the huge advantages science has over religion is that it can identify errors in a previous theory, adapt/improve/replace the theory and move on. Religion does not have this option: When having to choose between evidence and belief, belief has, by definition, to prevail.

Concerning 2: You have it backwards: The universe is not finetuned to our needs, we are finetuned to the universe.
Yes, of course cosmologists and particle physicists are trying to understand if there is any reason why the fine structure constant has a value of 1/137, but that is a completely different question.
At least they are trying to understand this stuff and not just asserting the answer to be "goddidit".

Btw., the universe does NOT consist of energy, matter and information. It consists of (at least according to current knowledge) energy, period. Or matter, period. Matter is energy.



I wonder, why do people keep attacking stuff that has been proven over and over again (relativity and evolution seem to be favourites, for some reason)? Attack string theory if you must.

RkBall said...

"In that case, Mr. Ball, what do you think is the chance that an omniscient, omnipotent deity popped into existence by chance?

Seriously, your argument above seems to hinge on a lot of probability. So, for the purposes of comparison, what is the probability of the Christian God?

If you think the emergence of simple life is so laughably unlikely, why do you have absolutely no trouble accepting an all-powerful God? What's the mathematical probability of that? Or do arguments based on probability not apply to you?"

Thank you for your question. Here is my response:

1. Probability has to do with chance and contingency. I see the universe as a contingent reality; one which need not exist, and which need not exist in the particular form it takes. So, both its existence and its particular form are both contingent.

2. Because the universe exists, it requires an adequate cause. Since time, matter, and energy all came into being as a result of the Big Bang, the sufficient cause of the Big Bang must be immaterial, exist outside of time, and be extremely creatively powerful.

3. Because of point 2, a being existing outside of time, i.e., eternal being becomes exceedingly likely. This being, in order to effect an ordered, mathematical universe which includes conscious, moral beings, must be a) eternal, b) personal, i.e., not impersonal, c) creative, d) moral, and e) powerful. All this becomes probable, because the universe requires a sufficient cause.

4. As a second point, probabilities apply to contingent realities. They do not apply to a being that exists outside of contingency, i.e., a necessary being. Therefore, the use of the logic and science of probability is inapplicable to the existence of God, who exists outside of time, chance, and contingency.

5. As a third supporting point, things which begin to exist require a cause -- either design or chance. Things which never begin to exist, i.e., eternal beings, are by definition, uncaused. So, asking the question "what caused an Uncaused Being to exist?" is incoherent.

Thank you for your thoughtful question.

RkBall said...

"Btw., the universe does NOT consist of energy, matter and information. It consists of (at least according to current knowledge) energy, period. Or matter, period."

Thank you for your post.

Since the universe does not consist of information, I shall disregard everything you said, in spite of the energy you put into your response.

lastchancetosee said...

:-) . Touché.
Maybe I should clarify my previous comment somewhat.
I do think that information "exists", however, only as a purely human concept, invoked by us to categorize things.
I really do not want to get into the whole DNA=Information-discussion, but clearly information it is not something you could include in a fundamental list of "universe building blocks". And if it were, wouldn't that sort of take the wind out of the whole information→design argument? What would then be different about information as opposed to, e.g. quarks?
"The universe consists of matter, energy and information." implies that those three are elementary when only one of them is (and a second is a different version of the first).

I hope I understoood you correctly, do you in fact posit information as a elementary part of the universe?

RkBall said...

"do you in fact posit information as a elementary part of the universe?"

I cannot answer this question because the term "elementary" as you use it here may have a technical meaning.

1. What I believe is that DNA is encoded design instructions which, in any other context, would be treated as information and accepted as evidence of an intelligent source.

I also believe that a distinction can be made between information and its encoding. Computer instructions, e.g., can be encoded on paper tape, punched cards, mag tape, discs, hardcopy, etc. -- but the underlying information exists and is not to be equated with the media on which it is encoded.

2. I also believe that, to go with your theme of the-universe-is-energy, that the universe consists of organized energy, not just energy (or matter) in some random, unarrayed form. To me, this ordering also smacks of intelligence, or information, or both -- not sure which.

It's interesting. The universe, if uncreated and undesigned, is the product of mindless processes -- the dead-stupidest processes possible, because they are literally mindless. If, on the other hand, the universe is created by an intelligent being, we can immediately see, in the physics, astonishing intelligence. It's an odd paradox. And it's odd that that's the choice we, theists and atheists, are given -- dead stupidity, or sheer brilliance.

There's no middle ground.

lastchancetosee said...

First up, 'elementary'.'Elementary' as in 'elementary particle', i.e. a particle that is itself not contructed of something else. This is a rather inconvenient definition because it refers to matter and 'information' is not a material concept, so lets go with the broader concept of 'fundamental building block'. I think you answered my question in your second answer.

"1. What I believe is that DNA is encoded design instructions which, in any other context, would be treated as information and accepted as evidence of an intelligent source."

But context does matter here.
To go back to an ancient example: If I find a watch on a beach it is reasonable to assume that it was designed. But why is that so? Because we are very familiar with processes that produce watches and involve designers. We already know how watches are made, so it is reasonable to assume this one was made that way, too. In a broader sense, the same is true for everything we humans design: We know human design, so even if we find something we have never seen before, if it is similar to human designs we know it is - in the absence of other explanations - reasonable to assume that it was designed by something human.
Take as another example a crystal. In it's way it's as complicated as a watch, however we know of natural processes that produce that complexity and we instantly assume that it was not designed.
Third example: Imagine an alien race. Would we be capable of recognizing their designs as such? Maybe they are so wildly dissimilar to ours that we wouldn't.

I'd say that we are not capable of recognizing design per se, only at recognizing human design.
That still leaves the possibility of non-human design, but to go back to what you said: Since DNA definetely doesn't look like human design we can't say it is designed.

What people usually mean when they say of natural things 'it looks designed' is 'I can't think of something natural that could have produces this'. But since in, for example, the case of DNA we know of a natural process that is overabundant and is very adept at working on DNA etc. and since a designer of DNA is such a hugely more complex explanation, I'd say, grab Occam's Razor and get rid of the latter in favour of the former explanation, even if you don't know exactly how DNA was created by natural processes.


A sidenote, and you have probably heard that before: To my mind there is no way that a being capable of creating, building DNA and all that follows could a the same time be so breathtakingly incompetent.

Living things do not look designed. My walking apparatus is complete crap, because it was designed to be used on all fours, to take but one example.

LTerminus said...

Just a few responses to the science in the last fifty years bit:

"2. Fine-Tuning -- the universe is improbably fine-tuned for the existence of life, bringing the odds that it happened by chance to effectively nil, and shattering the scientific notion that life is easy and ubiquitous. In desperation, scientists are now hypothesizing multiverses."

Multiverse theory predates the whole "fine-tuning" problem, at least in the scientific mainstream, by about ten years, just for reference. Life is easy in this universe, because life is not some special, shiny thing. its an artificial portion of complex organic chemistry from the more common sort. life inst everywhere because certain reactions, however complex, require certain conditions. The partition of chemistry classified as "life" just happens to require the specific conditions we now find ourselves in. Were the universe not given to a propensity for life, we would not be here to contemplate said propensity.

Also, you clearly have a failed understanding of probability mathematics. The probability that the universe would form in the form it did with the laws it did is 1. Because we have one observed sample, and thats what happened.


"3. DNA - DNA is encoded information. The universe consists of matter, energy, and information. Information implies intelligence. Encoded information implies design. Quacks like a duck, walks like a duck..."

DNA does not contain information in the sense you mean, I think. It is not an instruction booklet, and does not have anything that equates even vaguely with something along the lines of "step one; step two; step three." etc. cell development and differentiation, as well as development as an embryo, are a constant reaction between parts of the DNA, its environment, and the results of those interactions with different parts of the DNA as such. DNA is less the encyclopedia of life that it is a "catalyst" for the certain stages of development that require it. It never creates a cell from scratch, it always works with and from the resources of a functioning cell.


"4. Origins of Life -- the origin of the simplest life form is billions of times more complex than Darwin envisaged. The chance that life popped into place on earth by chance is now considered effectively nil. Origin of life scientists are now seriously hypothesizing that life on earth came from another planet - brought by aliens (which effectively just shifts the problem, like the universe solution."

To start - Darwin never envisioned anything about the origin of cells. Darwinian theory is not used, nor taught any longer except in a historical context. During darwins time, germs, cells, and whatnot were still new and misunderstood ideas, and many did not even consider them life (many microbiologists maintain that virus' are not alive by any definition) so of course he did not address such things in his writings.

As for the chance being considered effectively nil, you again reveal an ineffective application of probability. We have only a handful of sample in the local system which have not even been fully invesitgated, and even there, the apparent probability of life arising on a body orbiting a star to be in the billions (good odds,) to appear on a large body something on the order of 1 in 100, depending on how you classify large, 1 in 8, depending on how you classify planets, and on worlds with conditions such as gave arise to life like ours, to be 1/1. The odds are very far from nil, and even "effectively nil", were it true, is not nil in an infinite universe.

UU4077 said...

The Big Bang Theory is the latest attempt by scientists to explain the beginning of the universe. I wonder what caused the Big Bang?

Anonymous said...

RKBall: "Here's what science has come up with in the past 50 years:"

I just lost a few IQ points after reading your ignorant thoughts on science. Thankfully there have been some sane replies to your ignorance!

Why do you bother with the "fine-tuned" universe still?? Do you also see a puddle on the ground after a rain storm and marvel at the way the water is shaped JUST PERFECTLY RIGHT to fit that hole in the pavement? That's EXACTLY what you're saying with your "fine-tuned" argument.

Lastchancetosee said it well when (s)he wrote: "You have it backwards: The universe is not finetuned to our needs, we are finetuned to the universe."

This 'lastchancetosee' person sure does have so good comments.. another one I liked was:

"To my mind there is no way that a being capable of creating, building DNA and all that follows could a the same time be so breathtakingly incompetent.

Living things do not look designed. My walking apparatus is complete crap, because it was designed to be used on all fours, to take but one example."

I couldn't agree more - how can anybody see life on our planet and think "intelligently" designed!!

joe agnost

RkBall said...

Joe,

"How can anybody see life on our planet and think "intelligently" designed!!"

After seeing your post, I tend to agree with you.

1:14 PM

Anonymous said...

See??!! Even RKBall agrees with me!

Let's ignore his grade-three level comment above and discuss just how awful the "design" of the human body is!

Walking on 2 legs is an easy flaw in the systerm, but what about eye sight or hearing?
If there was a designer - and humans are the some 'special' design ("perfect" I think is how the bible describes us) - then what gives with the eyes? Why were owls given eyes that see in the dark better than us? Or see at greater distances?
Why do some animals have better hearing than we do? If there is a better designed hearing system why not give it to us too??

Because there is no designer!! Or he's really incompetent! Take your pick!

joe agnost.

lastchancetosee said...

While I'm glad that you liked my comments, I'd have to disagree with your examples.

While we could do with owl-like eyesight we manage very well without, so maybe the "designer" just economized a bit on his creation for simplicity's sake.

What I was talking about was not a "lack of ubgrades" in the human or any other body for that matter but rather real "design" flaws. The most common example would be our walking apparatus, another would be viruses that are so lethal and contagious that they make themselves go extinct.

"I wonder what caused the Big Bang?"

That is a very good question, and one that scientists are working on. I'm sure that someday we will know the answer (even if it should turn out to be 'goddidit').


p.s.: lcts is a 'he'

Anonymous said...

lcts: "While I'm glad that you liked my comments, I'd have to disagree with your examples."

Come on! That's not very nice of you.... OK, I'm just kidding and I understand where you're coming from.

"maybe the 'designer' just economized a bit on his creation for simplicity's sake."

That's one way a creationist ~could~ argue this point (I know you're just playing the devil's advocate and aren't a creationist), but why would a creator economize with the ONE thing he was creating that was supposed to be perfect!?

But it's a weak point.. I know.

There are 2 legitimate issues, IMO, here.... one is that the creation is flawed (walking, child birth, etc.) and the other is that if we're his favorite most cherished creation then why did he give other animals better working parts? Why not give humans the best of everything?

The answer is that it doesn't look designed in the slightest - in fact, natural selection explains this very well!!

joe agnost

lastchancetosee said...

"Why not give humans the best of everything?"

That is a legitimate issue. But I think it is a question on a different level, because it calls into question not so much the mere existence of a designer but the validity of e.g. christian assumptions about that designer.
The universe might have been created by a designer that did not see humans as the pinnacle of its creation.


Going back to the original post: The ontological argument suffers from one truly fatal flaw, in that it assumes that existence is greater than nonexistence. Why would that be so?
Since greatness itself is a very ill defined property there is no way to tell what constitutes greatness and what does not.
Since something that does not exist is inherently flawless, maybe god, the greatest possible beeing, is great precisely because he does not exist?

And why even assume that there is a greatest thing? What if, for every great thing we can find a greater thing (whatever that means)?

Anonymous said...

It's a ludicrous "argument" to begin with, no different than saying "I can imagine a perfect can of tomato soup, but if that can of tomato soup is perfect, that means that that can of tomato soup is also a) all-powerful, and b) existing; therefore, a perfect can of tomato soup created the universe."
Creationists really don't understand how silly they appear when they're trying to justify their belief in their imaginary magic man in the sky.

lastchancetosee said...

I just found the list of hundreds of proofs of gods again.

They have the ontological argument as well:

"ONTOLOGICAL ARGUMENT (I)
(1) I define God to be X.
(2) Since I can conceive of X, X must exist.
(3) Therefore, God exists.

ONTOLOGICAL ARGUMENT (II)
(1) I can conceive of a perfect God.
(2) One of the qualities of perfection is existence.
(3) Therefore, God exists."

sinned34 said...

Of course, even if I were willing to accept RkBall's presuppositions on what the requirements to create a universe are (which I'm not), he is missing one important piece of information: the Bible presents a wildly inaccurate explanation for the development of the universe. Even when not taken literally, the Bible is a poor source for explanations for how the universe began and how Earth evolved into being.

To put it another way, even if evolution or the big bang theory turned out to be completely incorrect, the Bible is unable to address the majority of observations of the state and behavior of the universe, and so cannot be relied upon for an explanation of possible gods or the world that surrounds us.

RkBall said...

"My walking apparatus is complete crap, because it was designed to be used on all fours, to take but one example."

I hope to do a follow up posting on this.

RkBall said...

"The ontological argument suffers from one truly fatal flaw, in that it assumes that existence is greater than nonexistence. Why would that be so?"

It's an intuitive argument. You either believe that something that actually exists is greater than something that exists in the mind, or you don't.

Most people would intuitively think that a girlfriend who exists in reality is greater than one who exists only in one's (lonely, sniff!) mind!

Of course, in a purely materialistic universe, the very idea of something existing only in the mind causes intriguing problems. Since the material universe of molecules in motion is all that is, something that exists in the mind does in fact exist -- in the mind. It may not correspond to external reality, but, so what? Since the material universe is one big, mindless, self-determined energy system, whatever exists in the mind has as much integrity as anything else that exists -- it's all just undesigned, unintended energy/matter.

Only in a theistic universe can a correspondence between beliefs in the mind and external reality be expected or demanded, because in a theistic worldview God has designed the universe and us to comprehend it.

Atheists, as usual, are forced to borrow from theistic coherence.

RkBall said...

"Since something that does not exist is inherently flawless, maybe god, the greatest possible beeing, is great precisely because he does not exist?"

You are getting close to a platonic view of reality, for which I have some sympathies -- the real is in the ideal, which exists in the mind. It is true that in our minds we can conceive of perfections that are not available to us in a material reality -- a very odd quirk in a mindless, uncreated universe, but perfectly reasonable if an infinite immaterial being created our minds for speculative flights.

The apparatus of human thought points to an eternal Creator -- we are wonderfully and marvelously made!

lastchancetosee said...

"I hope to do a follow up posting on this."

Please do.

"It's an intuitive argument. You either believe that something that actually exists is greater than something that exists in the mind, or you don't."

"You either believe in [...] or you don't." And therein lies the rub. That is not proof, that is faith. We're not talking about faith, we're talking about proof.
So what we need is a sensible definition of 'greatness' and proof that it necessarily includes 'existence'.
With my example of greatness from inexistence I was not getting to a platonic worldview but making a joke to illustrate this problem.
To rephrase it in an 'intuitively' understandable way: Concidering all the great things god has supposedly done, wouldn't he be even greater if he'd accomplished all that while not existing?
I personally like the formulation of the ontological argument (II) as quoted above, because it is a) true to the original but b) obviously nonsense.

I'm sorry to say that the conclusions you draw in the rest of your two latest comments is just are all cases of non sequitur.

RkBall said...

"You either believe in [...] or you don't." And therein lies the rub. That is not proof, that is faith."

Intuitions are most emphatically not the same as faith. And, there are other kinds of proofs besides proof to a mathematical certainty. It is not a binary either/or.

lastchancetosee said...

(Sorry for fisking this)

"Intuitions are most emphatically not the same as faith."
Intuitions aren't but if a proof depends (as stated by you) on belief it is not a proof. However that is a bit beside the point (mea culpa) since intuition doesn't constitute proof either. Intuition is helpful but easily fooled.
Take optical illusions, where you or rather your brain intuitively interpret what you see in a completely wrong way.

"It is not a binary either/or."
Sure it is. A god-like beeing either exists or it doesn't. And either we prove it does or we don't.
Or, going back to the ontological argument: It tries to prove that god exists. In that it either succeeds because the chain of reasoning is correct or it fails because at least one step is flawed. To say that this is anything but binary is to say that the argument can be right and wrong at the same time.

We could of course set out to prove something else, that god is possible (a trivial proof :-) ) or that god is plausible, i.e proved to exist contingent on assumptions that seem possible.

RkBall said...

"It is not a binary either/or."
Sure it is. A god-like beeing either exists or it doesn't.

LastChance: First, let me thank you for sticking with this discussion -- I have enjoyed it.

By not binary either/or I was referring to epistemology, not the existence of God -- there are more than the two options of "mathematical certainty" and "faith" -- the hazards of dashing off a quick response when other matters press!

"And either we prove it does or we don't."

1. As long as you realize that God's existence does not depend on our proof -- just like my existence does not depend on either your proof of my existence, or your persistent skepticism towards my existence. Maybe its not a matter of us proving but God revealing; maybe God's existence is hidden to the rebellious but open to the sincere seeker -- once you postulate a Person and not just a thing, the options for knowing or not knowing become far greater than human-controlled queries.

"Or, going back to the ontological argument: It tries to prove that god exists. In that it either succeeds because the chain of reasoning is correct or it fails because at least one step is flawed. To say that this is anything but binary is to say that the argument can be right and wrong at the same time."

2. An intuitive grasp of something is a legitimate epistemology (IMO). I am not defending the ontological argument; it exists; I simply put it out there because I find it intriguing.

I do believe that human brains are wired to have an intuitive grasp of the idea of God, unlike, e.g., the best-possible tomato can or the FSM.

Even atheists seem to have some kind of intuitive grasp of the God whom they seek to deny. They try to relegate the idea to God to the category of "nonsense", as a nonsensical category -- but I think they fail in trying to make this leap. Can I prove they fail? No, it's an intuition.

Interestingly, as imperfect as I believe the ontological argument is, it has been given a fresh boost from the multiverse hypothesis -- philosophers pretty much concede that, in an infinite-worlds scenario, if it is possible for a greatest-possible-being to exist, he must in fact exist. But, a greatest-possible-being would exist in all possible worlds, not just one or some -- ergo, as a probability, he exists in this world.

Again, not a proof, but an interesting argument.

Glad we've got sufficient brain cells to engage in speculative thought -- praise mindless evolution for giving us so much more than what is needed for brute survival!

lastchancetosee said...

1.) "As long as you realize that God's existence does not depend on our proof [...]"

Supposing that is true, what would that mean? That if I happen to prove god exists, he could still not exist? Or that if I happen to disprove him, he could still exist? That would rather put paid to the concept of proof and logic, wouldn't you agree? To take up your second example, if I were to prove that you don't exist, then either you do not, in fact, exist, or my proof is flawed. There is no middle ground.
Though I readily concede that an omnipotent being need not be constrained by the rules of logic, I'd much rather give up the concept of god than that of a logical universe - the latter, in contrast to the former, beeing a well tested hypothesis.
And to god being only accessible to the believer, again that is entirely possible for an omnipotent being but smells suspiciously like an ad hoc fallacy.

Anyway, that sort of, for lack of a better word, unprovable god is not one the christian faith is positing, is it? The christian god is, if I remember my bible correctly, performing miracles all over the place - all of which are susceptible to the scientific method and therefore proof. Or, to take a different example, prayer. If prayer works that would be provable by statistical analysis. And so on.

2.) While I do think that it is a valuable thing for humans to have, it's usage in this context is not valid. Having an intuitive grasp of something is not indicative of it's existence. My intuitve grasp of what 'red' is, doesn't change that it does not, in fact, exist.

3.) Your many-worlds-interpretation of th o. argument (if I may call it so) is certainly an interesting take on the matter but suffers the same flaws as the original: Why would "existing in all worlds" imply greatness?
A further problem is that the multiverse-theory only concerns itself with the values of physical parameters of these worlds, not a sort of 'anything goes'. One would have to show that there is a set of parameters that neccessarily creates a universe in which a perfect being exists.

"praise mindless evolution for giving us so much more than what is needed for brute survival!"

Since our bodies are not very well adapted to survive without tools, it is very probable that our survival depended on our highly evolved brain. Take away our technology and most of us would die. Take away our intellectual capabilities and all of us would die, because compared to most relevant animals our physique is pretty crappy.

"I have enjoyed it" - so did I.

RkBall said...

" Or that if I happen to disprove him, he could still exist? "

Yes. God is a Person. He does not exist at the end of a syllogism where you can take an eraser and rub him out. Persons can hide themselves, or reveal themselves. And that is exactly what the Christian scripture affirms that God does -- which is why Christians have such certainty and confidence in arguing for what the atheist views as a vapor.

lastchancetosee said...

"" Or that if I happen to disprove him, he could still exist? " - Yes."

OK, so you say that god is indeed not bound by logic. That is a) possible but renders moot this whole discussion, would b) radically change our whole world for which there is no evidence and is c) immensely intellectually dishonest. Allow me to demonstrate:

Remember what sparked this discussion? A LOGICAL PROOF of the existence of god, put forward by you as at the very least "notable" and "intuitively true".
Let's top that: If I happened to prove, by some incredible piece of flawless logic, that god DOES in fact exist, would you say, "Oh well, that doesn't really matter, god is above logic etc., that doesn't really prove anything." ? Of course not.

What you have just told me (very politely and subtly) is this: "Thank you for pointing out the flaws in my logic, some might even be true flaws but that doesn't matter because logic only enters into this question if it works in my favor.
Logic's existence is contingent on it's affirming god's existence."

To which I can only reply: Then there is no possible argument to have. So what have we been doing here except waste each others time?

RkBall said...

LTTC:
Did I say that God was not bound by logic? I did not.

If you were to "prove" that my mother did not exist, I would still know you were wrong, because I know my mother. The logic would in fact be flawed. In the same way, Christians know that God exists, through the witness of his Spirit whom he has given to us. God is not a theory or an idea or a wish. Therefore, I can say with certainty that any logical proof of God's non-existence would be flawed.

However, since the God Christians claim exists is immaterial, to prove his non-existence, you would have to postulate that logic governs not only the material but also any immaterial realm -- that it exists beyond the material realm.

This is exactly what I as a theist believe, and which you, as a materialist, cannot believe. You are stuck with believing that logic somehow came into existence with the Big Bang, and, worse, that it evolved into being -- formed slowly and imperfectly, perhaps. Or did logic exist prior to the existence of the universe?

As for your distress at the idea that I am saying that logic somehow applies, then doesn't apply, then applies -- this kind of absurdity would be entirely consistent with an undesigned, arbitrary reality, such as the one you would expect if there were no divine mind and hand behind reality.

If a whole universe of matter, mind, consciousness, etc. can just pop uncaused and undesigned into existence, so can logic. And what can pop into existence can pop in and out of existence -- why not? Why should the reality we live be fundamentally stable and ordered as opposed to unstable and disordered?

Your fundamental belief in logic is fundamentally flawed apart from an hypothesis that reality is orderly, patterned and governed -- by rules of logic, etc.

The question is, what is the sufficient cause of this ordering of reality. And the sufficient answer is, God.

You need not need to be a theist to think, but all logical thinkers rely on assumptions about reality that are fundamentally theistic. You listen to the music, you just deny the composer.

lastchancetosee said...

"Therefore, I can say with certainty that any logical proof of God's non-existence would be flawed."

So, my original point stands: Why bother discussing it? Any "logical" proof, however shoddy, will be at least "intuitively true" because you believe it's conclusion to be true. Any disproof, however good, will be flawed even if you can't find the flaw, because you believe it's conclusion to be flawed.
Or in other words: I believe in logic if and only if it's results suit my beliefs.
To maybe end this rather fruitless discussion, let me ask you this question: Is there something that would make you give up your belief in god? If so, what?

I wont go into the whole "immaterial realm" thing because it is based on so many unwarranted assumptions that the whole thing is - to my mind, and to quote - "not even wrong".

You assume to much. Try this experiment: Sit down, take alle the questions about your and this worlds existence you think god answers and then list for each of them the attributes god must have to answer them (i.e. the universe must have a cause → god must be uncaused and eternal).
I think you'll find that the god you posit is the greatest ad hoc fallacy you'll ever find.
Which leads us to the assumption behind it all, which you were nice enough to spell out for me:

"The question is, what is the sufficient cause of this ordering of reality. And the sufficient answer is, God."

Sufficient but not necessary.
When you hit something you don't know the answer to, you assume the answer to be god.

I don't want to sit here as if I had all the answers. With some of the questions you answer with god I know you are wrong. With some I assume different answers. With some I have no answer (yet).
I try to make my assumptions consistent with the world I observe and I try not to make unwarranted assumption.

I can't exclude the possibilty of a god in the 'prime mover' sense (i.e. a god that once got the universe giong and then left it alone). But so far nothing I have experienced necessitated this assumption so I'll go with the default assumption on this one.
I can mostly exclude the possibility of the specifically christian (or jewish or muslim) god because that one is pretty much contradicted by the world around us.

RkBall said...

"Is there something that would make you give up your belief in god? If so, what?"

Yes!

1. If I were to discover that all of reality was illusionary.

2. If I were to discover that there is no correspondence between the thoughts, sensations, etc. of my brain, and external reality.

3. If it were proven that Christ did not exist, I would abandon my faith.

4. If it were proven that Christ did not rise from the dead, I would abandon my faith.

5. If it were proven that the spiritual intuitions and experiences which I have had are not from God's holy Spirit, but, for example, caused by alien implants in the brain, I would abandon my faith.

"But so far nothing I have experienced necessitated this assumption so I'll go with the default assumption on this one."

There was a time when I would have said the same thing.

One more thing -- I probably should have said, a couple of posts back, that if you could indeed prove that God does not exist through logic, then he would not in fact exist. I should have put "prove" in quotes, as in, "supposedly prove". My point was because of my certainty of knowing God exists, I believe any such proof would undoubtedly be flawed. But, knock yourself out trying!

The theist says, "God, the necessary first-cause, the uncontingent, necessary being, the ground of all being and ground of all reality, "cannot not exist".

The atheists says, "God does not exist", not, I presume "cannot exist".

Gotta run!

LogicallySpeaking said...

"The atheists says, "God does not exist", not, I presume "cannot exist"."

Why presume when you could, I don't know, actually read a little and learn the various philosophical positions? In this case, the relevant topic might be the logical and evidential forms of the problem of evil.

"... nothing intellectually compelling or challenging.. bald assertions coupled to superstition... woefully pathetic"